HC Deb 04 May 1893 vol 12 cc131-43
MR. WEBSTER (St. Pancras, E.)

rose to call attention to affairs in Swaziland. He said the principal reason why he called attention to this important matter was that since 1890 the House had received no Reports on the country, and no information as to its affairs of a definite or adequate character from the Government. He thought the House should know whether it was true that a Conference had recently assembled in South Africa in regard to Swaziland; also what were the terms of the Reference to that Conference; and whether it was true, as stated in some newspapers, that the result of that Conference would be in the no distant future the handing over of this important territory—so far as it was in our power to hand it over— to the Boer Republic. Swaziland was not a very large country, being about 10,000 square miles in extent. At one time it was a portion of the Zulu nation, but now it was practically a separate and independent country. On the West it was bounded by the Drakenberg range of mountains, some 5,000 feet high, and supposed to be possessed of great potentialities in the way of gold mines; and on the East it was bounded by the Lebombo range. Its Southern limit was a line drawn by the Pingolo, and its Northern limit was determined by another artificial line which started from the Lebombo range to a spot opposite Delagoa Bay. The surface of the country was diversified by swelling grass-covered hills and valleys abounding with timber. Some people had said the country could be approached only by a balloon; but he was credibly informed that £120,000 of machinery had been taken to a mine which had been opened in the country with the greatest ease. The kernel of the country was the central plateau, about 2,000 feet high, where the Boens wintered their cattle. Indeed, the Boers, who brought nothing into the country, took a great deal from it, and the wintering of their cattle in that fashion had caused a great number of disputes with the natives. Turning to the historical aspect of the question, he would explain how it came to pass that we gave assurances to this small nationality, of about 50,000 or 60,000 inhabitants, that we would, to some extent, defend their independence. No one could deny that in 1876 the Transvaal Boers were in a hopeless state of bankruptcy, and were in great danger of being swamped by the Zulus. At that time the British Government was induced—he would not say whether rightly or wrongly—to enter into a contest with the Zulus, and he could not help regretting that we should have been forced to treat as a foe Cetewayo, who was willing, at that particular time, to be our friend. The intention then was, according to Sir Theophilus Shepstone, to protect the Swazis from being overcome by the Zulus. That had been always recalled by the Swazis. They had always recalled the fact that their nationality was about to be taken away from them by the Zulus when they, to some extent, received the protection of Great Britain. When, in 1877, we lavished British blood and money in fighting the Zulus, and destroying the danger which threatened the broken-down Boer Republic on its borders, and were compelled, not without reluctance, to take upon ourselves the burden of reorganising and administering the broken down commonweal as a Crown Colony, the Boers showed their gratitude by plotting to get rid of us; and they plotted against us, he admitted, with some success. They sent a deputation to this country, who were received by the right hon. Gentleman the present Member for West Bristol (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach), and the right hon. Gentleman gave, on that occasion, the only straightforward statement the House had received from either Party on this subject. But soon after that a Liberal Government, presided over by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Midlothian, came into Office in 1880. We had to reflect, with some humiliation, on the disastrous campaign in the Transvaal, ending with Majuba Hill, after which we, without duo reason or due cause, give up that valuable country to the Boers. In the Treaty we then made there was a clause that we were determined to maintain the independence of Swaziland. Did the Swazis long to be annexed to the Transvaal? He had no doubt that if the Europeans in Swaziland were polled they would be found in favour of annexation, for the majority of them were Boers; but he ventured to say that the Swazis themselves were very hostile to annexation. And why should they wish to be annexed to the Boer Republic? They were, it was true, surrounded on all sides by powerful nationalities, but that was no reason why they should give up their independence. In Europe, the Swiss, a small nationality, and, like the Swazis, surrounded by powerful States, had been able to maintain their independence. He did not think it right for any Member of the House to say hard words of people belonging to another nationality, but he could not help saying that the action of the Boers towards the Swazis was not altogether of a kindly character. In fact, the Boers had treated the Swazis in the way the negroes had been treated in South America, and, furthermore, they had done their best to degrade and debase the Swazis by importing a large amount of alcoholic liquors into the country. We protected the Swazis from the Zulu power, and the Swazis did their best for us on another occasion. Their King sent 8,000 of his picked warriors—which practically meant every man in the country who could bear arms—to aid Sir Garnet Wolseley in his campaign against Sekukuni. Writing of the Swazis Sir Garnet Wolseley said— They went home happy and contented, having done us remarkably good service during the campaign. They responded to ray call with great alacrity when I sent for them, and from the kindness with which they were treated by us, and the signal success that attended the campaign, I have no doubt we shall always be able to count upon their invaluable assistance whenever we require it to quell any native troubles in this part of Africa. There was evidence in the Blue Books that Sir Garnet Wolseley, Sir Evelyn Wood, and Sir Theophilus Shepstone had guaranteed the integrity of their country to the Swazis. We had not a large Army in comparison with the territory we possessed, and our supremacy rested on the fact that British honour and British promises could be relied on; that whatever was said by the British Government or by a British official was always acted on, and he thought that, in South Africa it would be a grave disaster if our promises to the Swazis were gone behind. English capitalists had expended large sums of money in an effort to develop the country, and were the fruits of that enterprise to be handed over to the Boer Republic? An Englishman had no political rights at all in the Transvaal. He had about as much political right as a helot had in Sparta, and if he changed his nationality and became a subject of the Transvaal Republic he had to wait for 16 years before. he had the right to vote; no foreign could be naturalised until he had resided in the country for 16 years, and that despite the fact that the country was being opened out by British skill and enterprise. No progress had taken place in any public Department. The Boers were paramount. In 1880 we allowed the Republic, on the flimsiest pretext, to extend its borders along the Southern border of Swaziland. By an Article of the Treaty of Pretoria, 1881, the independence of Swaziland was fully recognised. In 1884 that Treaty was ratified by the present Prime Minister, and in 1890 the independence of Swaziland was confirmed by Treaty. He thought this country should be very careful to consider whether she would not be going behind those Treaty arrangements if Swaziland was allowed to drift from the practical sovereignty of the Queen to the domination of the Boer Republic. Last year the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Colonies said he felt very strongly the duty of protecting the natives in this matter, and that he was fully awake to the duty incumbent on the Government to encourage and protect British enterprise. The Swazis wished to prolong their autonomy as a nation. He did not say Great Britain could cede Swaziland to the Transvaal. We might as well talk of ceding Afghanistan to Russia, or Morocco to France. The only part we could play in such a transaction was that of accomplices in a flagrant and perfidious act of robbery. No possible guarantee could be given that we should receive even the pitiful price for which we might bargain in return for our share in the betrayal of allies and the violation of all principles of humanity. The annexation of Swaziland by the Boers would place at their mercy the large amount of capital already invested in the country by British subjects, and would set the latter in the same humiliating and disadvantageous position as was occupied by the Uitlanders in the Transvaal. The native population would be doomed under Boer rule, their hatred of which had been plainly expressed, to slavery, oppression, and final extinction. He would like to know from the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies what the Government intended to do in this matter?

DR. CLARK (Caithness)

said, the hon. Member was in ignorance of the geography of the country and its history. He was utterly mistaken as regarded the geography. Swaziland was entirely surrounded by the Transvaal except on the East. It was not bounded by Natal. As to the assertion made in reference to the treatment of the natives in the Transvaal, he had never heard a more rash or untrue statement. A despatch sent to this country by the British Agent, appointed under the provisions of the Treaty of 1884, showed that lie had never seen people so comfortable as the protected tribes in the Transvaal. He himself had never seen a people more comfortable, or in such a high state of civilisation, as the protected tribes. It was also amusing to him to hear that an Englishman in the Transvaal could not obtain civil or political rights, must forswear his nationality, and must have been 16 years in the country before he had a right to vote. There were two Chambers in the country, and any man after two years' residence could vote for one, and after five years' residence could vote for both Chambers. All the statements made by the hon. Member, without exception, were absolutely untrue. He wanted to know, as well as the hon. Member, what the Government were going to do with regard to Swaziland, because we had done a great deal of damage to the country by the course we pursued in 1881. The Swazis were the only race in South Africa that the Boers had never fought. The Swazis had always been the allies and friends of the Boers, and there was a great deal of sympathy between them. The condition of Swaziland had now become something terrible, and it was getting demoralised and degraded beyond conception. As we could only get to Swaziland by going through the Transvaal territory, or through Portuguese territory, he did not think there was any course open to them but to come to terms with the Boers, and to hand that country back to the Transvaal. He did not say there was no other course; but if that course should be taken he hoped they would not play the game that was always played of making this concession to the Boers in return for something else, and without regard to the interests of the natives. No settlement of Swaziland that did not give the Swazi people their own soil would be satisfactory.


said, it was not necessary for him to enter into the historical part of the question, the "ancient history" raised by the hon. Member. They had to take things as they were. Unfortunately, in this matter, they were not dealing with a clean slate, but had to bear in mind what had happened in the past. He wished to say at once that Her Majesty's Government had in no sense raised this question of Swaziland of their own accord. They had not wanted to raise the question, but they believed that they were bound in good faith to the South African Republic, if it were raised, to discuss it on friendly and amicable terms. The hon. Member opposite said he did not agree with the policy of his Party with regard to the Swaziland Convention of 1890. That might be so, but the Government, coming into Office as they did, found themselves obliged to deal with the Convention as it stood, and with the pledges given by the late Government in regard to the Transvaal. Upon that point he thought he ought to say a word or two, because he wished that House to understand that, as far as the Government were concerned, they were not wantonly raising this Swaziland question. The Convention of 1890, which was about to expire, was admittedly a temporary Convention. It was only intended to last for three years, and the South African Republic had contended that when certain matters were settled, when Swaziland was in a satisfactory state, and when the concession question was settled, they were entitled to raise the question at an earlier period than three years. When the late Government negotiated that Convention through Sir Henry Loch with the Representative of the South African Republic it was stated specifically to the Transvaal Government that when the joint Government (British and South African) was established and the Concession Clauses were settled, it would consider such questions as the Government of the South African Republic might bring before it, with a desire to meet the wishes of the South African Republic as far as possible. When this Convention was ratified by the Volksraad similar words were used by them as a condition of ratification. Further, when the great trek northwards was anticipated in 1891, Her Majesty's Government undertook that if President Krüger would prevent the trek, which would have been very dangerous to our Mashonaland possessions, they would be prepared to consider this question before the expiration of the three years mentioned in the Convention. As regarded the question of throe years, he might say at once that in a sense it was immaterial, as the three years had nearly expired. But it was material in the sense that it showed throughout all the discussions that the South African Republic ex- pected from the very beginning that when certain circumstances occurred they would be entitled to come to the British Government and say—"We have done our part; do yours. Meet us and discuss these questions on friendly terms." Under these circumstances, so long ago as 1890, the late Government agreed that Sir Henry Loch should confer with President Krüger in order to discuss the matter with a view of meeting the South African Republic as far as possible. For certain reasons not connected with Swaziland the meeting fell through; but, last February, the late Government agreed that Sir Henry Loch should meet President Krüger and discuss the question; and Lord Knutsford, in a despatch to Sir Henry dated February 2nd, 1892, said— Her Majesty's Government, however, have every desire to meet as far as is possible the wishes of the South African Republic, and I have now to authorise you to inform President Krüger that you are prepared to receive, as representing Her Majesty's Government in South Africa, proposals from him respecting the government of Swaziland. He quoted that to show what was the opinion of the late Government in regard to this matter. When the present Government came into Office they found that this meeting had been arranged; and, so far as they were concerned, they had no option in the matter but to allow Sir Henry Loch to meet President Krüger and to discuss this question, with a view as far as possible of meeting the wishes of the South African Republic. He was quite sure his hon. Friend opposite would not expect him at the present moment to state what exactly were the instructions to Sir Henry Loch, or the exact conclusion come to at that Conference. But he might say that Sir Henry Loch and President Krüger met and amicably discussed the matter, and Sir Henry Loch had stated that he was well satisfied with the discussion and its results. But it was in the nature of a discussion and not of a decision, and for this reason—President Krüger, as they understood by telegraph, had no absolute powers to conclude the Convention then and there under his Constitution without reference to the Volksraad. There was, however, a very considerable exchange of views, certain bases were arrived at on both sides, which he believed would be found to be satisfactory to both parties; and later on there would probably be a further interview between Sir Henry Loch and President Krüger in order to draw up and to arrive at a filial decision in regard to the matter. Of course, before any final agreement was come to, all the points would be referred homo for decision before Sir Henry Loch would be entitled to sign on behalf of Her Majesty's Government. But he would say at once that, as to the rights of the whites, all their personal proprietary and political rights must be and ought to be preserved; and, so far as legitimate British interests existed, they also would be carefully and properly preserved. Further, in regard to the question of the natives, he could assure hon. Members that their interests would in no sense be neglected, and in any negotiations as to the future of Swaziland they would take care that the natives should not be coerced into coming to any agreement with the Transvaal Government if they objected to do so; and that in any arrangement between the Transvaal and England the consent of the natives should be intelligently and effectually given, and that they should not be harried, hurried, or deceived into accepting any Convention to which they might afterwards object. He would say, further, that any arrangement as between the Boers and the natives would necessarily be subject to terms to which the assent of the Government must be given, and that assent would not be given unless they had full guarantees that such native rights as did exist were properly preserved. He ought, perhaps, to say this in reference to what his hon. Friend had said as to what he had called the independence of the natives. It was perfectly true that independence was recognised, though it was not guaranteed, under the Conventions of 1880 and 1890. But it was recognised in the sense that neither party to the Convention might negotiate with the natives without the assent of the other. If it was now considered advisable that the Transvaal Government should be allowed to enter into negotiations with the natives, it would only be allowed under strict guarantees as to the rights of the natives. The hon. Member opposite said that if they allowed the Transvaal to extend to Swaziland they would extend further, take over Tongaland, and obtain possession of and accession to Delagoa Bay. In any agreement the Govern- ment would take care that the absolute independence of Tongaland as regarded the South African Republic should be assured, and that the position of Delagoa Bay would be in no way affected by any concession to the Transvaal in connection with these negotiations, and should remain in the same position as at present.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

thought the House should be satisfied with the assurances given by the Under Secretary for the Colonies. The hon. Gentleman said the interests of the natives would be safeguarded, and their wishes duly ascertained, and that they should not be coerced or harried into acceptance of Boer Government. What he wished to draw attention to was that when the Conference took place in Swaziland two years ago the wishes of the people in one particular direction, and that was, as to the encouragement of intoxication and the demoralisation of the people by drink. On that occasion he brought the matter before the House, and he read from the Blue Book the verbatim Report of the Conference that took place between the Representative of the Transvaal Republic, our own Representative, and the Representatives of the Swazi people, and he had read nothing more pathetic than the appeals made by the head men of the Swazis that we should stop the importation of drink, because restrictions were perfectly delusive. What was the result? He appealed to the hon. Member the late Under Secretary for the Colonies, and all the answer he got from the Tory Government was that the whole matter was closed, and it was impossible to reopen it. The matter was not closed so far as they were concerned. He would appeal to his hon. Friend who had charge of this matter, now that he was talking of safeguarding the rights of the natives, that he would see that the protection of these helpless individuals against demoralisation by drink was properly carried out. With reference to the arguments which had been placed before the House by the hon. Member who raised this discussion, he wondered what particular motive an hon. Gentleman on that side of the House had in raising the question. He believed he was right in saying that there were a certain clique of persons in this country interested in some of those concessions which had been referred to. He mentioned this because he had personal knowledge of what he was saying, and because he wished to ask the House not to attribute too much importance to the views they had heard put forward by the Mover of the Resolution. So far as he was aware, however much they might hear about patriotism and loss of prestige that might be incurred by handing over this portion of South Africa to the Transvaal Republic, these views were mainly put forward on behalf of gentlemen who were interested in concessions in Swaziland, and who were afraid that their concessions would lose in value under Boer rule. As the hon. Member for Caithness (Dr. Clark) had pointed out, all the concessions worth anything were in the hands of the Transvaal Government, who had paid large sums of money for them. The hon. Member who introduced the subject talked about handing over independent States without ascertaining the wishes of the inhabitants. That, he would submit, was rather a strange argument coming from a supporter of the late Government who went in for a wholesale partition of the Continent of Africa amongst the Great Powers of Europe without ever troubling themselves as to whether the people inhabiting these enormous tracts were in favour of the partition or not. He believed, from personal knowledge, that it would be for the interest of these portions of the country with which they were dealing that the arrangement for the administration of Swaziland should be placed in the hands of the Transvaal Government. He said that having considerable acquaintance with the manner in which the Transvaal Government treated the very considerable number of natives who inhabited the country of the Transvaal. He had associated with great numbers of them, and had, he might say, had dealings with them; and, although there might be instances of harsh treatment between the individual Boer farmer and the individual native—and he had seen such cases himself—he would maintain that, taking the Government of the Transvaal as a whole, its treatment of the natives was as humane and as satisfactory as was the treatment by England of the natives in her own territories in South Africa. It was quite true that there native attained to a very high degree of comfort and prosperity. He might mention a single instance whore a certain native chief in one portion of the South-Western Transvaal had recently been in a position to offer a very large sum of money to an English company for the farm land upon which the tribe was living, the surface rights merely, leaving all question of minerals out of the agreement. When that was the case, and when they knew the wealth which the natives accumulated working in the mines, and which they could carry away with them in hard cash without being harried or annoyed by the Government officials, it was nonsense for hon. Members who had never been within a thousand miles of the Transvaal to get up and talk of the ill-treatment by the Boer Government of the native population. It was one of those mythical statements always trotted out when there was any question of dealing with the Transvaal Government, against which so many people in that House seemed to have so ill-grounded a prejudice. He wished to say, on the broad general question of their relations with the Transvaal Government, that after what had happened during the last three years, and after what had been admitted there that night by the Under Secretary for the Colonies, it would be something like a gross breach of faith on their part if they were now to go back from the understanding they had entered into with the Transvaal Government and refuse to hand over to them the administration of Swaziland. It was all very well for people to get up and talk about the policy of letting the Boers down to the sea. Why should they not have access to the sea? If they chose to have a railway to the sea, and a harbour on the coast, he, for one, should be delighted to see them getting such an outlet for their industry and commerce as would be convenient to them. But that was not the question at the present time, and he would say it was worth their while to keep on friendly terms with the governing population of the Transvaal. This country had got enormous interests there. He did not say that the Transvaal Government would make itself particulary unpleasant to them; there was no reason to think that. He did not say either that the Transvaal Government could ever greatly interfere with all the millions of British capital which were now invested in the development of the Transvaal Republic; but he would say this: that, with friendly relations existing, as they now happily did, between this country and the Boers of the Transvaal, it was worth while to maintain those friendly relations, because every sensible man, every far-seeing statesman, whether in the Transvaal or in the Cape Colony, looked forward to the day when there would be some kind of federation of the States of South Africa, whether it was under the British or South African flag, when they would all be in harmony, and when there would be no fear of such dismal scenes as took place in the war of a few years go. He hoped, whatever decision they took in connection with this question, that good would result from it to the States of South Africa.